Pollution discharged into Fraser River
September 29, 2016
Most folks in Grand County probably do not know this but it appears the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) is discharging polluted water into the Fraser River.
The discharge is occurring at a location very near the Moffat Tunnel and is derived from a culvert located beneath a set of metal stairs that descend right to the banks of the Fraser.
The UPRR has a permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officially allowing the discharge of the water, but correspondence between Grand County officials and representatives from the CDPHE indicates the current level of pollutants being released are not allowed under the existing permit.
In correspondence with state officials Grand County has stated the organic compounds found in the discharge are toxic and some are carcinogenic. Emails written by Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris to officials from the CDPHE states, "the Railroad has classically discharged these organics, without disclosure to the state, in high concentration pulses which escape routine sampling. The existing and proposed permits do not currently include any organics, let alone include limitations for these."
Emails sent by Morris to officials from the CDPHE on Wednesday Sept. 28 state, "I hope the CDPHE will have the opportunity to investigate this case further and address this specific source of contamination." Officials have also sent photographs to the CDPHE of the point of discharge that show dark, black, almost opaque water flowing from the discharge culvert into the Fraser. The photos appear to have been taken on Sept. 14, 2016.
Notably, a letter sent on Sept. 19 by Morris to the State's Clean Water Enforcement Unit, a division within the CDPHE, states, "The Railroad curtailed the polluted discharge by 5:00 pm on the same day that that we were notified of the pollution."
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Correspondence between Morris and CDPHE officials indicates the permit allowing the discharge of water into the Fraser by the UPRR has been in existence since 2007. Additional email correspondence between Morris and State water officials states, "UPRR has stated that this discharge is associated with annual maintenance activities, and the Railroad has declined to report the discharge as a spill. However, nothing in the permit indicates that pollution of this level is permitted, and it would seem to be a violation of their permit."
A water treatment plant, to treat the water discharged into the Fraser by the UPRR, is currently under construction, according to a letter sent to the CDPHE by Grand County in late June regarding a draft permit for the UPRR's Moffat Tunnel West Portal.
The letter goes on to state, "To the best of Grand County's knowledge, there is and has been no treatment of this discharge prior to release to the Fraser River." The letter also points out that state regulations state, "state water shall be free from substances attributable to human-caused point source or nonpoint source discharge in amounts, concentrations or combinations which are harmful to beneficial uses or toxic to humans, animals, plants or aquatic life."
The letter goes on to state that the County, East Grand Water Quality Board and the Town of Winter Park conducted sediment and aqueous testing in Oct. 2015 but that such testing occurred too late after the August cleaning operations to, "indicate the presence of more than one volatile organic carbon (toluene) or significant concentrations of suspended or dissolved contaminants in the aqueous samples." Samples were collected at sites 287 feet upstream from the discharge point and 2,138 feet downstream.
The letter does state the downstream samples, "indicate the presence of several semi-volatile organic carbons (SVOCs) and diesel range organics (DROs) that are either not present in the upstream samples (SVOCs), or are present at significantly higher concentrations downstream compared to upstream (DROs) indicating that their presence is a direct result of the tunnel discharge." The letter noted the lab that tested the samples indicated the existing sediment matrix downstream from the discharge point was, "complex and likely to have a number of interferences."
The Sky-Hi News reached out to officials from the Union Pacific Railroad for comment on this story but as of press time no responses had been received. This story will be updated.